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Book Review: Legends of the Indus

Legends of the Indus, is penned down by author, artist, and educator, Samina Quraeshi who has worked across her native home in Pakistan and her adopted home in the United States to create a unique body of work informed in both places. Her previous work took inspirations from material and spiritual cultures of the Indus Valley where she wrote four award-winning books such as: Pakistan: Legacy of the Indus, Lahore: The City Within, Legends of the Indus, and Sacred Spaces: A Journey with the Sufis of the Indus.

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In 2006 Quraeshi was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for Cultural Preservation from the Government of Pakistan. As a lifelong advocate for the arts and design, she served as Director of Design for the National Endowment for the Arts, Assistant Director of the Carpenter Center at Harvard University, Henry Luce Professor of Family and Community at the University of Miami, and the Robert Gardner Visiting Artist at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. The Samina Quraeshi Award for Excellence in Design at Indus Valley School for Art and Architecture also honors her legacy.

The book also include works of Annemarie Schimmel, one of the leading experts on Islamic literature and mysticism in the world; Ali S. Asani who is a recipient of the Harvard Foundation medal for his contributions to improving the intercultural and racial relations; and Sadia Shepard, a writer and documentary filmmaker based in New York who together provide their plethora of knowledge and expertise to the book.

Legends of the Indus, is based on five legends that are drawn from the main regions of the Indus Valley that stretches from the Himalayas to the desert sands of the Arabian Sea, through a landscape of breathtaking beauty and contrast in what is now Pakistan. The book serves as a literal collection of stories, the folk legends that spring from regular landscape and a plural culture. Quraeshi has endeavored to make the legends tale more accessible and engaging for the new generation of readers in Pakistan and around the world in hopes of highlighting the internal heterogeneity of the country.

Legends of the Indus, begins by drawing parallels between Shah Abdul Latif’s teaching with that of popular romantic tales of the yesteryears. Both Schimmel and Asani write extensively on how the legends and sagas have intersecting themes that skillfully endow experiences from realm of human love with spiritual meaning. Asani writes, that “if Sassui represents the negligent soul in Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry, then heroine, Sohni, of Sohni-Mehar romance comes to symbolize a very different concept.” The skill of Shah Abdul Latif to indigenize Sufi teaching to Sindhi culture is remarkable. He writes that “Latif provides worldly experiences and physical journeys of heroines from local folk tales with an esoteric and spiritual significance in the Islamic context.”

The book highlights how folktales that were traditionally told by local bards for entertainment and education at community gatherings have now been reinterpreted by each subsequent generation in verse and song, providing material for the great Sufi poets as well as musicians, visual artists and craftsmen. Quraeshi skillfully pens down folk stories as Sufi parables with contemporary text that is inspired by oral, poetic, musical and artistic tradition. The book includes folk tales of:  Adam & Durkhane from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Sohni & Mahiwal from Punjab; Heer & Ranjha from Punjab; Omar & Marui from Balochistan; and Sassui & Punhun from Sindh.

In all, Legends of the Indus, aims to create a visually striking work that would communicate the richness, diversity, and plurality that exists and once-flourished within Pakistan. It is especially recommended to literature scholars and art enthusiast.

Author: Samina Quraeshi
Price: Rs. 1995
Published by: Oxford University Press
Available at: OUP Bookstores

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